Seth Whitmer Highlights 3 Changes to the Healthcare System as the Population Ages
By the year 2030, an estimated 78 million residents in the U.S will be age 65 or older — marking for the first time in history that the number of seniors will surge past the number of children under 18 (estimated 76.7 million). And even now, the aging population has already begun to make landfall in the U.S. as evidenced by the age dependency ratio, which measures the ratio of older dependents to the working-aged population. In 2018, the ratio was 24.16, while in 1965 it was just 15.65.
While the population is having an impact in a myriad of sectors such as financial services, real estate, travel, and many others, many experts feel that the deepest, broadest, and most transformative effect is happening — and will continue to unfold — in the healthcare space. According to Hiram (“Seth”) Whitmer, a leading healthcare administrator who has played a major role in transforming numerous healthcare organizations throughout the U.S., here are four key changes that the healthcare system should — or in some cases, must — make as the population ages:
Introduce models of care delivery that serve patients and lower costs.
Per estimates from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, national health expenditures as a percentage of GDP will climb from 15 percent in 2016 to 19.4 percent of GDP (or about $ 6 trillion) in 2027. And while caring for seniors in hospitals, community healthcare facilities, and in homes will not be responsible for the totality of the increase, it will doubtlessly be a major driving force. As such, innovating new and better models of care delivery that serve patients and lower costs — not the former while neglecting the latter — is not just an aspiration, but it is an obligation.
Adds Seth Whitmer, who earned his master’s degree in healthcare administration from the University of Washington: Encouraging and enabling telemedicine, both for patients in urban centers and for those in remote, rural environments, is a critical part of the strategy. The goal is to responsibly and in a patient-centric way reduce ER visits and hospital admissions.
Hire, train, support (and repeat).
There is an alarming lack of geriatricians, nurses, social workers, and public health professionals working in eldercare — which is not only creating severe and, in some cases, unacceptable risk to patients, but is overwhelming current staffing rosters and triggering widespread burnout. Unfortunately, many of the qualified and trained healthcare professionals who disengage from eldercare do not return; not because they do not care deeply and personally about helping seniors or supporting their colleagues, but because they (and their families) cannot shoulder the crushing burden.
According to Healthcare Specialist Seth Whitmer, in addition to hiring and training thousands of people to work in eldercare, we need to ensure that they are getting the professional and personal support they need to succeed and thrive. We also need to ensure that they are appropriately compensated at a level that is commensurate with their skills, and on a par with their peers working in other areas of the healthcare landscape.
Invest in public health education targeting seniors.
The axiom in healthcare remains that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” To that end, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses demonstrating that they are good and responsible corporate citizens, all need to work together to support public health education programs and campaigns that target seniors covering everything from the importance of nutritious eating and oral hygiene, to the value of volunteering and group membership.
Seth Whitmer states that at the same time, many older people are choosing or are obligated to remain in the workforce, if not on a full-time basis then on a part-time basis. As such, public education needs to reach employers who recruit and retain older workers, so they can be part of the solution. For example, campaigns targeting the fall risks that seniors face could lead to safer working environments or modified duties. This will lead to fewer seniors ending up in the emergency room or being admitted to the hospital.
Seth Whitmer and the Bottom Line
While some predictions are speculative — such as whether a stock price will rise in value, or whether a political party will retain or cede power in the next election — the fact that the population is aging is not a guesstimate: it is a foregone conclusion. This means that the healthcare system must adjust now, in order to ensure that it is ready, willing and able to meet the needs of today and tomorrow; not just for seniors, but indeed, for all patients, along with those who care for them on the front lines and behind-the-scenes.